Democratic People's Republic of Korea
46,540.75 sq mi
120,540.00 sq km
21,687,550 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
99.0% total, 99.0% male, 99% female (1990 est.)
traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, some Christian and syncretic
Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way)
67.76 male, 73.86 female (2000 est.)
authoritarian socialist; one-man dictatorship
1 North Korean won (Wn) = 100 chon
GDP (per capita)
$1,000 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agricultural 36%, nonagricultural 64%
military products; machine building, electric power, chemicals; mining
(coal, iron ore, magnesite, graphite, copper, zinc, lead, and precious
metals), metallurgy; textiles, food processing; tourism
rice, corn, potatoes, soybeans, pulses; cattle, pigs, pork, eggs
minerals, metallurgical products, manufactures (including armaments);
agricultural and fishery products
petroleum, coking coal, machinery and equipment; consumer goods, grain
coal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold,
pyrites, salt, fluorspar, hydropower
Current Environmental Issues
localized air pollution attributable to inadequate industrial controls;
water pollution; inadequate supplies of potable water
Telephones (main lines in use)
1.1 million (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
According to the Koreans, the first of their kin was born in 2333 BC.
Scientists with slightly less respect for Korean mythology believe Korea
was first inhabited around 30,000 BC, when tribes from central and northern
Asia stumbled on the peninsula. Under constant pressure from China,
these tribes banded together to found a kingdom in the 1st century AD.
By 700 AD the Silla Kingdom of Korea was hitting its cultural stride,
littering the country with palaces, pagodas and pleasure gardens and
influencing the development of Japan's culture. But in the early 13th
century the Mongols reached Korea and gave it their customary scorched-earth
treatment. When the Mongol Empire collapsed, the Choson Dynasty took
over and a Korean script was developed.
Japan invaded, followed by China - the Koreans were routed and the Chinese
Manchu Dynasty moved in. Turning its back on the mean and nasty world,
Korea closed its doors to outside influence until the 1900s, thus presaging
the events of the 20th century.
Japan invaded, formally annexing the peninsula in 1910. The Japanese,
who hung on until the end of WWII, were harsh masters, and anti-Japanese
sentiment is still strong in both North and South Korea. Much of the
guerilla warfare conducted against the occupying Japanese took place
in the northern provinces and Manchuria, and northerners are still proud
of having carried a disproportionate burden in the struggle against
war, the USA occupied the south of the peninsula, while the USSR took
over the north. Stalin sent Kim II Sung (the 'Great Leader'), a young
Korean officer from a specially trained unit of the Red Army, to take
charge of communising the North, and he steadily ascended to the head
of a separate government of North Korea, in defiance of a United Nations
plan for nationwide elections. Elections were held only in the South,
and when the South declared its independence, the North invaded. The
ensuing war lasted until 1953 (or is still continuing, if you consider
that the South never signed the armistice and count MASH re-runs).
sometimes referred to as the 'Forgotten War', because it fell between
the global conflagraton of WWII and the morally conflicted and moratorium-rich
Vietnam war, the Korean War was savage and brutal. By the time the war
ended, two million people had died and the North was virtually flattened
after almost continual bombing by the US Air Force - far heavier than
either Japan or Germany had endured during WWII. The peninsula was officially
divided just north of the 38th Parallel, and Kim Il Sung shoved the
North down the Soviet-style path, complete with Soviet-style purges,
Soviet-style gulags and even a Soviet-style Kim personality cult. But
the North Korean economy also developed more rapidly than the South
in the early years, thanks to the new Juche (self-reliance) ideology
that Kim created and installed. North Korea progressed industrially
and socially, and North Koreans were offered some of their first schools,
clinics, food reserves, labour rights and recreation facilities they
had ever had. Life improved markedly if you weren't a class enemy.
post-Korean war period also bought a continual cycle of tit-for-tat
and unneighbourly behaviour between North and South Korea. A whole lot
of sniping and name-calling went on with the US and Russia lining up
in their respective corners ready to protect their respective protégés.
By the early 1990s the cult of Kim was in full swing - the sun rose
and set, literally, through the agency of Kim Il Sung, their leader,
and portraits of him were emblazoned over the heart of every North Korean.
Even his death in 1994 and a widespread famine in the late 1990s failed
to dent the cultish adulation.
Kim Il Sung surprised everyone by announcing that he would freeze North
Korea's nuclear program and would meet with South Korea's president
Kim Young-sam for summit talks. The summit never happened, as Kim Il
Sung died on 8 July 1994. His son, Kim Jong Il (the 'Dear Leader') took
over the reins of power and ushered in a new period of even more uncertainty.
There was a general feeling that he wasn't quite a chip off the old
block; contrarily the general feeling was that he a few chips short
of a casino bet.
next six years, Kim Jong Il led a reclusive and introverted lifestyle,
refusing to meet heads of state or any other dignitaries. Reports filtered
back of the Dear Leader spending his time watching foreign videos and
sampling cognac at a distinctly non-marxist rate. In 1998, North Korea
pronounced Kim Il Sung (dead, at this point, for over four years) their
Eternal President. Kim Jong Il was given the second highest post of
Chairman of the National Defense Commission. None of these myth-building
enterprises helped end the economic malaise or the famine.
Il's reclusiveness and isolationist politics became legend, so the announcement
of an historic meeting between Kim Il Jong and the South Korean president,
Kim Dae-jung, in June 2000, made Asian watchers sit up and take notice.
Kim Jong Il's new-found expansiveness and diplomatic bonhomie suggested
one of two things: a genuine thaw and North Korea's entrance into the
21st century; or Kim Jong Il playing a tricky game of nuclear beggar-my-neighbour
with his old sparring partner, the USA.
nuclear buildup continued unabated, raising international concerns to
the point that the country was included in the George W. Bush's infamous
'axis of evil' speech of 2002. Attempts to scuttle the regime by choking
it of oil seem only to have made the regime angrier, and the people
hungrier. The economy was kept barely alive by the exportation of arms
and heroin. In October 2002, North Korea announced it had become the
world's ninth nuclear power, triggering a crisis that is continuing